Friday, December 30, 2011

Short Rib Risotto

Hello there, ready for New Years?  I can't believe Christmas is over and New Years is almost here.  2012 is almost here! And this could mark the first year that Alex and I don't make it until midnight.  We are usually NYE party-ers but I guess babies do change things.

We actually are going to a party on New Year's Eve, it's just going to be a little different. We'll all be celebrating New Years on East Coast time (out here in Las Vegas) so that all the kiddos don't have to stay up so late to join in on the festivities.  Kids and a 9pm celebration haven't factored in on past parties we've attended but, nevertheless, I think it is a great idea and I'm looking forward to it.  In fact, I doubt we'll even make it until 9...(in fact I'm pretty sure the kids will be in bed before 8)  Oh well, the Mr. and I will come home, put the kids to bed and drink some champagne from the comfort of our own couch. Good times.

If we were having dinner at home, this recipe I have to share might have been on the menu.  We made it a few weeks ago and it was fabulous.  It's our actually our own concoction, which is something we rarely do.  We really are just recipe followers, you know.  But genius did strike us when we decided to combine two of our favorites, short ribs and risotto.  Creamy delicious risotto with melt in your mouth short ribs topped with a gravy from the pan juices.  It was pretty easy and super super delicious.  The short ribs do take about 2 and a half hours to cook but the result is always so tender, it really is worth the time.

So, whatever your plans are this New Year's, I hope you have a wonderful time and are surrounded by those you love and who love you.  Best wishes for the New Year from the 4 Pears family to yours.

Short Rib Risotto, risotto adapted from Mario Batali

Short Ribs
1 1/2 pounds boneless short ribs
2 carrots, diced
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 can diced tomatoes
2 quarts beef stock (+/-)

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
4 cups chicken stock, hot
2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (Parm-Reggiano is even better!)

To begin the short ribs, saute the onion, carrots and garlic with a little bit of olive oil in a large heavy saucepan.  At the same time, in a non-stick pan, heat a tablespoon or two of olive oil and brown the short ribs on all sides.  Once the veggies are softened, around 5 minutes of so, add the diced tomatoes and cook for another minute or two.  Now place the browned short ribs into the saucepan with the veggies and pour over enough beef stock to cover the meat.  Bring the pot to boil and then turn down the heat and allow the whole thing to simmer for 2 to 2 and a half hours.  The meat will be falling apart when it is done.

Once it's done, remove the meat to a platter and pull it apart with a fork.  Pour what is left in the pan into the blender to puree it into an awesome gravy.  Pour the gravy back into the pan and put the meat back into the gravy and keep it on low as you cook your risotto.

To begin the risotto, heat the olive oil in a large saute pan until it is shimmering.  Add the onions and cook for about 8 minutes.  You want it to be soft and translucent but not brown.  Next add the rice to your pan and toast it for about 3 minutes or until it is opaque.

Add the wine and a ladle of stock to the rice and begin the marathon of stirring.  Keep stirring until the liquid is almost all absorbed then add another ladle of stock.  Repeat until the rice is creamy and tender.  The amount of stock you use will vary but it should take 15 to 20 minutes or so.

Remove the risotto from the heat and stir in the butter and cheese.  Plate the risotto and then top each plate with portions of the short ribs and gravy.  Enjoy!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas Menu

For me, certain holidays mean certain foods.  For Thanksgiving there is obviously turkey, but Christmas is always ham.  Even though Alex has been threatening(?) me with the idea of a "Festival of Liver" Christmas dinner, we will be having ham.  I rarely put my foot down around here but when I do I mean business! This also applies to the pancakes with blueberry sauce we'll be having Christmas morning, even though my poor husband isn't such a huge fan of blueberries.  I've been having them Christmas morning ever since I can remember and it wouldn't be Christmas without them!  Memories of my Dad making blueberry pancakes or my Grandmother's mac and cheese are part of what makes the holidays special.  I'm looking forward to making those memories with my own children soon.

So despite Alex's desire to do something exotic and interesting for the big holiday dinner, we'll be sticking to simple family favorites. Our Christmas dinner will be quiet this year...just us and two good friends.  We'll miss having our family around us but at least we'll have a dinner that reminds us of home.  I'm pretty sure even Alex will be happy with all the holiday comfort food.  :)

Here's what will be on our dinner table for Christmas this year...

Alton Brown's City Ham
Brioche (I already got a brioche pan for Christmas, now I just need a recipe!)
Pumpkin Pie with Maple Whipped Cream**

**this could be the best whipped cream on the planet, just add 1 tablespoon of good maple syrup to a cup of cream and mix until fluffy**

Have a Merry Christmas or a joyful holiday of another sort.  Enjoy your family, friends, and of course, dinner.  ;)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Cocoa Thumbprints

Have you had enough Christmas cookies yet?  I haven't.  But I think I'm close.  Between ginger cookies, these cocoa thumbprints, homemade truffles and those eclairs I made last weekend (another post for another day); my blood sugar level is probably a little high.

Here's the latest addition to our snowman cookie jar, I hope they end up in a cookie jar near you soon! They are delicious.  Light and fluffy and pretty too.

Cocoa Thumbprints, adapted from Food Network Magazine, December 2011 issue....or here.
(about 3 dozen cookies)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar, plus 1/2 cup for rolling
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
toppings... ( I used sprinkles and icing but you could use hershey's kisses or candies, jam or dried fruit, etc.)

In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar (only 3/4 cup), cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. Stir in the melted butter and eggs until the whole thing is well combined.  (This could be the easiest cookie dough ever, right?)  Now just refrigerate it for about 30 minutes, covered.

Line your baking sheets with parchment paper (or a silicone baking mat like the one's Mr Pears got me for Christmas!) and preheat the oven to 325 F.  Put your two types of sugar on two separate plates.  Roll about a tablespoon of dough into a ball in your hands and then roll the ball first in the granulated sugar, then in the confectioners' sugar.  Put the dough on the tray and flatten it slightly, then make an indentation in the middle with your thumb. You can fill your cookies with your toppings now, or if you are using something like the icing I used, you can wait until the cookies come out of the oven.

Bake the cookies for about 10 minutes then let them cool on the sheet for another 3.  Remove to wire racks to finish cooling.  Once cooled I used some Betty Crocker (gasp!) pre-made cookie decorating icing to fill in the indentation then put on some red and green sprinkles before the icing set.  Very festive!  Merry Christmas and happy cookie eating.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Homemade Truffles are so Easy!

Tis the season of cookies and sweets right?  No worrying about extra calories, that is for January.  Since we have family coming this weekend I've been trying to make sure we'll have plenty of sugary treats for our guests.  I was super excited to try my hand at some homemade truffles the other day and even MORE excited by how easy they were and how great they turned out.

These truffles have a great rich dark chocolate flavor due to the combo of bittersweet and semi-sweet chocolates. The Grand Marnier! and coffee lend a depth of flavor to them as well even though I swear you can't truly distinguish that they are in there if you don't know.  (I'm not a big fan of "flavored" chocolates).   On top of being easy to prepare, these last in the refrigerator for "weeks", so you can make them ahead of time...something that is much harder to do with cookies.  (But I'll have some thoughts on that in another post.)

Chocolate Truffles, adapted from Ina Garten
1/2 pound good bittersweet chocolate
1/2 pound good semisweet chocolate
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier or other orange flavored liqueur
1 tablespoon prepared coffee
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
various toppings (sprinkles, coconut, crushed nuts, cocoa powder, confectioners sugar, etc.)

First chop your chocolate into small pieces (if you didn't buy chips or pieces already), and heat the cream in a small pot until just boiling.

When the cream begins to boil, turn off the heat and let it set for about 20 seconds then pour it over the chocolate and whisk the two together until the chocolate is melted and smooth.

Whisk in the remaining ingredients (but not the toppings, duh.) and then set the bowl aside to sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.

Once the chocolate is cooled and set, use a small ice cream scoop or a teaspoon to drop out rounded blobs of chocolate onto a parchment-paper-lined tray.  Don't worry about making them perfectly round because you are going to shape them further later.

Now put the tray into the refrigerator to cool for at least an hour. Rescue your child from a Lego box which is much to small for them to sit in, but only if necessary.

Once the chocolates are chilled all you need to do to finish them off is to roll them into a more round ball shape between your hands and then roll them around in your topping/s of choice.  I rolled some in sweetened coconut flakes, some in Christmas-y sprinkles and some in cocoa powder.   Store them in a tin lined with parchment paper or a glass bowl, covered, in the refrigerator.  Take them out just a few minutes before serving and enjoy!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Leftover Pot Pie

There are always tons of leftovers at the holidays and you need a solid recipe to use some of them up....this is it! Last Christmas we made an amazing prime rib but since Mr Pears sometimes overdoes things, like buying 10 plus pounds of prime rib for 6 people, we had some leftovers.  We decided to make this pot pie by Jamie Oliver and it was unbelievably good, we swore to make it again soon.  Fast forward to last weekends' 15 pound turkey....more leftovers.  Thankfully we remembered this recipe, it was pretty darn awesome with turkey too. Thank God because I have so much turkey over here that I made two of the pot pies and I'm going to do a turkey chili tomorrow.  Stocking up the freezer with week day meals!

Anyway.   This pot pie is really good and it works with just about any leftover meat you might have.  Certainly chicken, beef, turkey, or even ham.  It is easy to make  and it does make an awesome alternative to eating boring leftovers.  The pie has a flaky puff pastry crust and is stuffed with leeks.  Since leeks might not be something you use often (or ever), I'll say they have a very mild oniony flavor and a nice sweetness.  Make sure to wash them very well because they tend to be quite sandy.  Enjoy!

"Leftover" Pot Pie, adapted from Jamie Oliver
 2 slices of bacon, chopped
1 table fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
4 lbs of leeks, washed, trimmed and sliced (trim off the dark green tops and just slice the white and light green parts)
1 1/2 lbs of leftover turkey/beef/chicken/ham, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 tablespoons of creme fraiche (you can also substitute Mexican crema, which I use, or sour cream)
1 sheet of store bought Puff Pastry, thawed
1 egg, beaten

In a very large saute pan or dutch oven over medium heat; cook the bacon with the thyme, olive oil and butter for about 5 minutes.  Add the leeks and cook them for a few minutes, just let them begin to wilt and turn them to coat well.  Cover the pan with a lid and allow the leeks to cook for about 30 minutes or until nice and soft.  Stir the leeks every ten minutes or so to make sure they don't stick to the pan or burn.

Once the leeks are done add the meat, seasoning and flour and stir it all together.  Stir in the stock and then the creme fraiche.  Bring the pot to a boil and let it simmer for five minutes.  Now place a large strainer over a bowl and pour the whole mixuture into it.  Reserve the amazing gravy left in the bowl for serving and put the strained pie filling into a baking dish.

Roll out the puff pastry to fit the top of the baking dish and then lay it over the dish.  Tuck the edges under to make it fit.  Now score the top of the pie diagonally with the tip of a sharp knife and brush it with the beaten egg.

Bake the pie in an oven that has been preheated to 375 F for about 35 to 40 minutes or until the pie is golden brown and puffy.  Serve with the warmed gravy!

The whole pie, yum.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sausage and Apple Stuffing

Stuffing?  I know, I know...I'm a little late to the Thanksgiving party, huh?  Well, as I said, we didn't cook Thanksgiving this year since we were invited to a lovely get-together with friends instead.  Still, Mr. Pears was feeling a little deprived of cooking the annual turkey so we bought one and had a little Thanksgiving of our own here this past weekend.

We didn't do much, just cooked a 15 lb turkey for the two of us, two toddlers and a couple of fat Chihuahuas.  We also had the aforementioned stuffing and a celery gratin that will not be making the blog.  It wasn't horrible but it wasn't a huge hit either.

We finished it off with some leftover (Tollhouse recipe!) chocolate cookies and a glass of wine.  Delicious.  The turkey turned out great as usual (great job honey!) and we both really loved the stuffing.  I thought I'd share it since some of you may be serving stuffing with your Christmas ham/goose/prime rib. :)

Ina Garten calls this her Sausage and Herb Stuffing but you won't find any herbs on the ingredients list.  It does have Granny Smith apples, and though it is a very hearty stuffing with such large pieces of bread and veggies, it still has a great classic "stuffing" (or dressing!) taste.  StoveTop, step aside.

Sausange and Herb Apple Stuffing, adapted from Ina Garten 
10 cups 1 inch bread cubes (use whatever "good" bread you want!  I used some rye and some french bread)
1/2 cup of butter (1 stick)
2 cups medium-diced yellow onion (1 large or two medium onions)
1 cup medium-diced celery (about 3 stalks)
2 Granny Smith apples. cored and cut into large pieces (no need to peel!)
1 Tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 lb sausage (without casings)
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup dried cranberries (I left these out because I didn't have any...)

** a note on the bread** If you make bread, or buy artisan breads at the store, don't throw away the ends!  Just toss them in a large freezer bag and freeze them.  When you want to make stuffing or croutons just defrost those leftovers overnight!

Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Put the bread cubes on a baking tray and bake them for about 7 minutes and then transfer them to a large bowl.

While the bread is toasting in the oven, melt the butter in a large saute pan and add the onions, celery, and apples.  Saute them with the salt and pepper for about 10 minutes or until everything is nice and soft.  Pour the veggies over the breadcrumbs in the large bowl.

Cook the ground sausage in the saute pan until browned (about ten minutes) and then add that to the bowl as well.  Stir in the chicken stock and then pour the whole thing into a baking dish.  Bake it for 30 minutes at 300 degrees. Enjoy!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Well I really have no great excuses for my recent lack of posting....All I can say is chasing after two toddlers is hard work and I've been lazy!  How about some random pictures of those cute toddlers?

Mommy and Daddy just bought us a jungle gym but we prefer this old lawn chair!

I want to do better though, I enjoy sharing our cooking adventures and I hope you find the recipes helpful/interesting/fun too.

With the Christmas/New Year holidays coming up I'm sure you are doing some holiday cooking or entertaining so hopefully you'll find some cool new recipe ideas here!  Personally, I'm always looking for new vegetable side dishes, so that's what I have today.

I think cauliflower is really under-rated as a vegetable.  It is mild flavored so most people will love it even if they haven't eaten it in twenty years.  It is another good substitute for mashed potatoes;  you could roast it or make a gratin like this one.  This gratin is another Bobby Flay recipe and it is so delicious.  I love love the goat cheese in it.  I hope you like it too!

Cauliflower and Goat Cheese Gratin, adapted from Bobby Flay's Bar Americain cookbook
3 cups whole milk
2 tablespoons butter, more to butter baking dish
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
6 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, grated (1 1/2 cups)
6 ounces fresh goat cheese, cut into pieces
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper
1 medium head of cauliflower, cut into bite-sized florets

Bring the milk to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium-low heat.  Once it is close to simmering, melt the butter in a larger saucepan. Whisk in the flour into the melted butter and cook for about 1 minute, whisking constantly.  Slowly whisk in the hot milk and continue whisking until the mixture thickens, that could take between 3 and 10 minutes, depending on how hot your milk was.  Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the Monterey Jack cheese along with half the goat and Parmesan cheeses.  Season the sauce with salt and pepper. Delicious right?  And it isn't even done. ;)

Mix the sauce and the cauliflower together in a large bowl then pour it all into a buttered baking dish.  Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top along with some freshly grated pepper.

Bake for 50-60 minutes in a 350 F oven.  Let this cool and set up for about 10 minutes before you serve it.